Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio was announced in 2008, and this year it was finally released. Del Toro saddles up with stop-motion animation legend Mark Gustafson to present some of the year’s most stunning visuals but also goes a step further by adding some weighty thoughts on war, death, and family to the beloved Carlo Collodi fairy tale.
Set in wartime fascist Italy, Pinocchio opens with a broken Geppetto (David Bradley) grieving the loss of his son. During a bender, Geppetto assembles Pinocchio (Gregory Mann), who is then given life by a magical sprite (Tilda Swinton). It’s not long until the carefree Pinocchio must contend with a harsh world that is immediately suspicious of him, Geppetto included.
The plot covers a lot of thematic ground, all of it good, but it’s hard not to be distracted by the film’s technical achievements. Characters are lively and expressive thanks to wonderful animation, and the sets take full advantage of the seaside Italian setting. Though it’s his first animation rodeo, del Toro’s vision is ironclad across every inch of the production. There’s a pair of recurring ethereal characters who are quite possibly the most Guillermo del Toro things to ever appear onscreen. You see them, nod your head, and go, “Yep, that’s him. No one else can do that.”
Visually and thematically it’s a win, but your ears might be conflicted. The voice cast is great all around, with Bradley and Ewan McGregor’s Sebastian J. Cricket being easy highlights. That’s overshadowed by the fact that the film is apparently a musical. Sort of. Characters break into jarringly bad songs every so often, but they’re quickly forgotten about. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio excels when it adheres tightly to the vision of its director, but staggers when it allows the successes of other animated films to puppet its decisions. PG, 117 min.